Co-operative Party Conference 2018, Bristol. (c) Natasha Hirst Photography

Around 10,000 people took to the streets last weekend in Bristol in solidarity with the protests in America over the murder of George Floyd and to stand against injustice and racism here in the UK. Many more joined in at home by ‘Taking the Knee’. I am a personally very proud that so many Bristolians took part peacefully and respected the need to protect their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

Many will have seen the removal of the Colston statue on TV. I don’t condone criminal damage but I do know that the statue has divided opinion for many years, and the overwhelming feedback I have received from those who knew about him was surprise that the statue was still standing.

For those who have not come across Edward Colston he was a merchant, an MP, and a generous philanthropist. He was also one of the foremost slave traders of his era. In 1680 he became a member of the Royal African Company which held a monopoly of the British trade in African slaves, rising to lead the organisation. During his time there, it has been estimated that the Company transported over 80,000 Africans to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas. In 1895 a statue was erected to commemorate his philanthropy.

There is a view that the past is the past, that a statue is not worth getting het up about. Or that we can’t judge the past by today’s standards. Or that his philanthropy balances out the inhumanity. Yet for the many in the Black community, Colston’s statue continued to be a living reminder of the treatment of Africans; a past which – sadly – still shapes some attitudes today.

But enough history. I entered politics to change things now, and to make a better future for those to come. That’s why both myself and the Mayor Marvin Rees were delighted to join with other cities as one of the first signatories to the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery – on behalf of Bristol Council. We have worked hard to use the levers we have to eradicate the scourge of modern slavery, and to root out today’s human traffickers.

In years to come I don’t want people to look at recent events in Bristol and dwell on the removal of a statue. I want people to see a city which is more and not less equal than it is now, where people of all backgrounds challenge racism and inequality, where it is acknowledged that today’s civil leaders have left no stone unturned in the search for people who exploit others.